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 Texas : Features : Columns : The Thirties in Texas

A Gonzales County Rite of Passage

Memoir by Dawson Minear

"I never realized until I became old how much fun I had as a youth. Since I enjoy recalling all of the fun and scrapes I had, I have enumerated many of them in newsletters I do as a hobby for the Mansfield Senior Reader."
Editors note: Our (former) man in Gonzales Murray Montgomery forwarded a letter he had received from a Mr. Minear in Mansfield, Texas. Both Murray and Mr. Dawson share the experiences (good and bad) of working at the same small town newspaper - although at different times.

In that letter, Dawson Minear, long time editor and publisher of the Gonzales Inquirer, mentioned that he had once farmed 20 acres of Gonzales County and had come up with only a bale and a half of cotton. We asked for more details and Mr. Minear replied with the story that follows:
In the process of growing up on a farm in Gonzales County, one of the passages to manhood was displayed by being able to handle all the farm equipment. The boys at school were prone to brag how they were able to handle farm equipment. In a community which relied on horsepower to work the land, I felt impelled to purchase a horse and three mules despite the fact I was living on my dad's mechanized farm. My dad's family migrated to Texas from Illinois and his mode of farming was in stark contrast to others in the neighborhood. He had a blacksmith shop and made most of his equipment or else modified factory built. I believe he had the first tractor in the county. Even so I thought we should have mules, which he eliminated when he mechanized the farm.

With dad's permission, I purchased a pair of small matched mules and one big mule. Seeing my stubbornness to use mules, my dad let me use 20 acres of my grandfather's field which was pretty much farmed out. It had been idle for some time so I had to use the mold board turning plow to get it in shape.

The small mules were great to work together but there was a catch. One mule did not want to be bridled, so the other mule was trained to hold him against the fence while the bridle was placed behind his ears. I used a triple tree (a long beam to hook the mules to, to pull the equipment). The beam had its pivotal point one/third of the distance to give more leverage for the big mule pulling against the small pair.

I soon found out that the small mules would see-saw (one back up as the other pulled and vice versa) if they could not get the load to move. As a result I had to get the big mule moving before the small ones started so the plow would move or I would have a problem. The big mule was named Joe. Old Joe had only one pace and was slow about starting off but he never stopped pulling. I have seen him stretch to the point his belly almost drug the ground. We used Old Joe like a horse. He did not mind how many kids got on him, he would trudge along at his leisurely pace. Trying to make him speed up resulted only in his switching his tale and continuing at the same pace.

What I liked most about the field was this big tree out in the middle. Never mind the grass burs and rocks, this tree provided a shade to keep my water jug cool and also provided a place to rest. The team didn't mind how many times I took a break. Somehow I managed to get the cotton planted and get most of the cotton up. Then came the work of keeping the weeds and grass plowed from the cotton. What with the soil not readily adapted for cotton production and not enough rain to sustain good growth the result was poor cotton plants. In good fields of cotton it was not uncommon to see cotton waist high and above with numerous branches. Not so this cotton; some of it got knee high. Now that the cotton had gotten this far along I had the boll weevils and other insects to deal with.

There was a point when I thought about just laying it by and forget about picking but my dad persuaded me to get what there was. I don't know how I did it, because earlier I had picked cotton for a neighbor and never got more than a hundred and fifty pounds a day. Cotton pickers usually picked two rows at a time, one on the right and one on the left with the cotton sack strap over the shoulders, the sack being dragged behind. I picked cotton for a neighbor alongside of the neighbor girl and when I would get behind she would reach over on one of my rows and pick to help me catch up. Each time we weighed up she had twice as much as me. She picked 300 pounds a day and I picked 150 and I tried hard. The very idea of letting a girl pick more cotton than me was devastating.

I don't remember how we got the cotton ginned. I think I added it to the cotton dad harvested. This experience was embarrassing to someone who was trying to prove himself. I had to admit dad was right. Tractors are a lot better to use than following a mule team. This was a learning experience but it alerted me to see if surely there existed a job somewhere that was better than this. A roving salesman for a correspondence school stopped by the farm and easily convinced me I should take a course in Railway Mail Clerk training. Before I had finished that, my brother-in-law told me about a job opening at the Gonzales Inquirer. I jumped at that opportunity and was on my way to learning the printing business. It wasn't a gold mine but it got me out of the cotton patch. It was a vocation I stayed with until I retired.

Dawson Minear
August 2003

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